Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective


Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Lord of the Rings to the Rescue!

The other day, in Toronto, a press conference was held to announce the upcoming, massive stage production of a wee book that's already been made into a wee film trilogy: "Lord of the Rings."

This article from The Toronto Globe & Mail heralds the hope that the show might single-handedly revive Toronto as a tourist destination. Just a bit riding on this one.

I'm probably not alone in feeling a mixture of curiosity, dubiousness, and hope. As a "Lion King" fan, I'm now convinced that staging something familiar to audiences from a different format actually provides a great opportunity to expose the potentials of theatricality. The very impossibility of interpreting the Tolkien classics the way the film did makes this interesting. It's GOT to be wildly theatrical, or it will be wildly awful. The article clearly states that the director, well-known stage helmer Matthew Warchus, knows this:

"With a cast of more than 65 actors, the production will include an assortment of elaborate costumes and actors on stilts, evoking some of Cirque du Soleil's aesthetic, as well as giant props. Shelob, the enormous spider that is central to The Lord of the Rings's final book and that nearly kills Frodo the hobbit, will stretch across the entire 40-foot stage.

The production's otherworldly set and costume design will rely on depicting characters such as the sinister Black Riders and the tree-like Ents, rather than trying to build gigantic Tolkienesque landscapes in the theatre.

As director Matthew Warchus suggested, the stage production will have to rely largely on the power of subtle suggestion in recreating such exotic scenes as the gleaming city of Minas Tirith and the dark land of Mordor.

For instance, opening yesterday's tightly choreographed press conference, which felt like a gala performance in its own right, a sinister Black Rider was a large construction of skeletal, wooden-like beams. It was lit as much to accentuate its shadows, as to show off its actual form.
The music, at least judging by the few songs previewed yesterday, is a combination of Nordic folk tunes (as composed by the Finish contemporary folk group Varttina) and lush, Eastern-influenced passages (by A. R. Rahman, a popular composer of Indian film soundtracks) devolving into catchy, Josh Groban-like balladry. The audience of journalists, tourism people and other guests applauded heartily."

I suppose the audience of invited guests applauding at the press conference is better than booing, but doesn't exactly mean a whole lot at this point. I had to search the article for my biggest question: how long will the show be? Answer, it's 3-hours total, with each book being dramatically summed up in an hour. In and of itself, that's neither good nor bad, but it raises the concern that, given how well people know the full story, the stage version will come like a Reader's Digest summation: souvenir theatre, piquing our memories of something we like rather than delivering an actual experience.

Gotta say: I can't wait to find out.